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Nano NiFe Electrodes for Hydrogen Generation

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Hydrogen Generation by Water Electrolysis



QSI-Nano®Products Home > Applications > Hydrogen Generation

Hydrogen Generation

    Hydrogen has traditionally been indispensable for transforming petroleum into many of the synthetic materials used in industrial production, such as polymers, chemicals, and pharmaceutical raw materials. Currently, hydrogen is receiving a lot of press in the context of new applications involving renewable energy and clean technologies. In particular, considerable R&D has been focused on the development of high efficiency home and other distributed electrolysis systems for transportation. Industry estimates that the total market for traditional uses of hydrogen combined with these new applications will reach $15.6 billion by 2016. Revenues from merchant and on-site hydrogen sales will reach $2.7 billion in 2008, up from $1.8 billion in 2003, at an average annual growth rate of 8.5%.

    Currently, 85% of the world’s hydrogen is produced by steam reformation of natural gas.  In this process, natural gas is converted to hydrogen. Unfortunately, a significant amount of greenhouse gas is also produced as carbon dioxide (CO2). For every pound of hydrogen produced by the steam reformation process, four pounds of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.  Steam reformation also produces trace amounts of carbon monoxide (CO) which remains with the hydrogen.  Without expensive purification processes, the CO becomes a poison for the fuel cells expected to be used in vehicles, stationary power sources and industrial devices.  Additionally, hydrogen produced by steam reformation is usually generated at large chemical plants and must be shipped to the customer in large compressed cylinders or as a liquid in a cryogenic container, further increasing cost.

    Alternative hydrogen production methods are highly desired for eliminating production of these greenhouse gasses. Water electrolysis (the splitting of water molecules with electrical energy) generates hydrogen without producing greenhouse gasses, and ideally would be powered by a renewable resource such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric or nuclear energy.

    To date, electrolysis has not achieved the efficiency and cost levels required because the catalyst material used in electrolysis today is expensive and the reaction that produces the hydrogen is not efficient enough—alternatives must be found within the process.

    Two types of electrolysis have been considered for hydrogen generation, acidic and alkaline.  Acidic electrolysis is ill suited to be the standard production method as it requires prohibitively expensive platinum as its catalyst material.  Alkaline electrolysis is the more promising approach because it eliminates the need for expensive precious metals to serve as a catalyst, and with high surface area nano-scale particles, the catalytic reaction is more efficient.  For alkaline electrolysis, a combination of nickel and iron is ideal because it is less costly and can easily be produced at the nano-scale. QSI’s proprietary Nano NiFe™ coating of nickel and iron particles can improve this process by dramatically increasing the surface area available for the catalytic reaction that generates hydrogen, thus increasing efficiency and production rates.

    QSI has demonstrated that by using its nano nickel and iron particles it is possible to exceed the Department of Energy’s target with 85% energy efficiency by increasing the surface area of the active components of the electrolyzer, without any CO2.  This degree of efficiency makes hydrogen generation commercially viable for replacing fossil fuel-based methods, especially as the cost of fuel increases.  Additionally, QSI’s proprietary and scalable manufacturing process can produce nano nickel and iron in the quantities required for large-scale commercial hydrogen generation via water electrolysis.  QSI’s nano scale materials thus make it possible to meet all current and future hydrogen needs:  for industrial production, as sole fuel for next generation plug-in hybrid electric/hydrogen and fuel cell powered vehicles, and for the hydrogen-enhanced standard combustion engine.

    Hydrogen Generation by Water Electrolysis
    During electrolysis, water molecules are broken into their constituent parts using QSI nanometal (such as Nano Ni) electrodes to produce oxygen (O2) and hydrogen (H2). The hydrogen can be used to power fuel cells (See How Hydrogen Creates Electric Power In A Fuel Cell); the oxygen can be stored or vented as desired. In this diagram, the electrolysis process is powered by solar panels made using Nano Ni, but conventional sources of electricity may also be used.